5 Questions with Dee-1
On financial literacy & everyday activism
Dee-1 isn’t your ordinary radio rapper. He was a middle-school math teacher before jumping into the rap game, and he did it a way that was fiscally responsible. Now he’s taken up a mission to not only spit bars, but also be an engaged activist and share his passion for financial literacy. His hit single, “Sallie Mae Back”, was just the start.
How has technology changed your creative process in the past year?
I've realized I can put content out as fast as I want, and, literally, I have a direct access to my fans. What it's made me do is want to put more content out because the more you put out the more you stay relevant in the minds of your fans. My motto is “Be real. Be righteous. Be relevant.”
You left behind a professional career to pursue music. What advice would you give someone considering a similar change?
The advice I would give to someone considering a change like that is No. 1: Save your money. I don't want to lie to anyone and make it seem like I'm an overnight sensation. No. I saved my paychecks from being a middle-school teacher. I had some money stacked that I was able to live off of until my professional career musically started to take off. That's the first thing I would say. The second thing is don't be a slave to a paycheck and some benefits. Don't, because life is too short to be enslaved by saying "Well, there's the stability of this job but my heart isn't really with this job." No. You should always pursue your passion. That's why we were put on earth.
Why is financial literacy something that's important to you?
Growing up, everyone in my family always kept a job. But for whatever reason, we seemed to not ever have any money. I didn't understand how you could be working and making money but we never seemed to have money. So, I was always passionate about saving from an early age. Also, investing. The wealthy stay wealthy because of investing. I've never knew anything about investing because no one around me ever invested. When I signed my first big record deal, the first thing I chose to do was pay off all my debt. My song, “Sallie Mae Back,” became an anthem for millions of Millennials. At that point, I realized this topic is bigger than I even thought it was.
What does it mean to be an activist in today's time?
Being an activist is about what's going to empower the youth. What's going to inspire people to come together to have a better future for this world. That's what being an activist is all about. If you're fighting against any type of discrimination going on in this world, you're an activist. If you're fighting against any poverty—mental poverty, financial poverty—you're an activist. If you're an advocate for financial literacy, you're an activist. If you want to help empower people to be educated and see how education gives you options in this world, you're an activist.
In practical terms, what does that look like?
Identify what issues really pull at your heart strings. What's going on in the world that you care about? That's the first thing. Identify your passion. When you identify what your passion is from there start on the grassroots level and figure out as much info as you can about that topic, Educate others. Get passionate about something. Learn about it, and educate your circle.
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*Responses edited for clarity and length.